Tag Archives: seej

You Say You Want Some Evolution: Type A Machines Series 1

Longtime readers of this blog will know that, except for a few dalliances with a Printrbot Simple Beta, I’ve been working with a MakerBot Replicator1 since, like, forever. Lately Zheng Labs has been ramping up for Kickstarter #2, and I realized I’d been spending more time tweaking an aging bot than designing and iterating prints. So I did the research, made some calls, bit the bullet, got my ducks in a row, and finally purchased a 2014 Series 1 printer from Type A Machines.

series 1

Photo credit: Type A Machines.

Let’s be completely fair in this comparison– I’m juxtaposing a 2012 vintage machine made of plywood and hobby motors with a sleek new 2014 acrylic and steel bucket o’ hotness. It’s not a fair comparison by any stretch, but if nothing else it’ll help show how far prosumer 3D printing has come in the last two years.

We’re in the late Carboniferous here, folks. If MakerBot Industries got us out of the primordial soup and onto dry land, TypeA Machines has us fornicating in the ferns and laying hard-shelled eggs.

There’s still a long way to go before we fly, but boy howdy have we made some big leaps since 2012.

This particular Rep1 has 957 documented hours of printing, not including the gods-know-how-many-hours I printed before the original Mightyboard melted a year ago. It’s been through a few nozzle replacements and an extruder upgrade during that time.

I haven’t even owned the Series 1 for 957 hours. How’s it going to hold up over time? Same? Different? Better? Worse? Who knows. But let’s dive in for a first look.

side by side

Cost Comparison

A Replicator1 in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars is $2,208.09 in 2014. The TypeA machines 2014 Series 1 is $2,749.00 today. That $500 difference quickly evaporates when one considers that (time==money), and every minute you’re not spending with a jammed extruder is a minute you could be working on the Next Big Thing.

The Unboxening

The Series 1 arrived at Zheng Labs in a fracking HUGE box, 24″ on a side. It’s well protected in some serious closed-cell foam and includes a bunch of accessories and tchotckes including, but not limited to, a cute little print removal spatula and an Elmers’ glue stick. More on the glue stick later.

Assembly ain’t rocket science; all you’re doing is attaching a couple of acrylic panels to the sides of the machine for aestheics and ventilation. You’ll need less than 10 minutes and the included hex wrench. Note: assembly time may be reduced by temporarily removing all cats from the work area.



Once the printer’s all put together the next step is getting it to talk to your other devices. Type A Machines helpfully includes a short cat-5 cable for this purpose.

Plug in the ethernet cable, turn the printer on, and then connect to the printer using your browser of choice. Lo and behold, it works after some fiddling. Expect to spend about ten minutes doing this the first time, especially if you’re an impatient type who power-cycles any electronics that don’t respond within seconds. (guilty, as charged.) The fine print on the Quick Start guide clearly says the Series 1 might need five minutes to recombobulate after a network change.

Initially I had some trouble connecting to the printer over the network, but those problems went away after I ssh’d to the printer once. Coincidence? Who knows. Connections are working flawlessly now and have been for days.

Once the printer’s connected it’s controlled with Octoprint, a web-based interface for 3D printing.

Pre-print prep

The bed-leveling bugbear haunted my experience with the Replicator1 for years. If you don’t get your print bed leveled properly, your print doesn’t stick and you’re left holding a frustrating bag of fail. Over time I’ve gotten super-proficient at getting the Rep1 level, but it’s a tedious process. Sometimes it takes five or ten minutes to get it right.

Not so with the Series 1. You home the Z axis from Octoprint and then turn ONE KNOB. That’s it. Leveling takes less than a minute and you’re ready to go.


This. This knob. This knob is my new BFF.

BONUS: The Series 1 has wifi! I prised the iPad from the kids’ grimy hands and repurposed it as a printer control device. It’s fun to stand in front of the machine like a manager with a clipboard. It’s also easier than running to and fro across the room to my desktop machine to control the print head.


I’ve since started using an iPhone to control the printer, because it’s easier to hold up one-handed while I’m leveling the bed.

wish_list.append('mobile CSS for Octoprint')

Print controls are clear and straightforward; upload gCode to the printer and hit print. The printer’s got about 5GB of free space on it, so you’ll be able to store all kinds of models right on the machine.

On generating gCode: you’ll need to download Cura for TypeA Machines to slice your models. More on that software in another post.

wish_list.append('Cura for iOS')

First Print

You’ve got two options for getting your prints to adhere to the build platform; painters’ tape or a glue stick. Let’s try the glue stick because it’s NEW! and DIFFERENT! At least to me it is.

No special skills required, just rub down the print area with the (included) glue stick and wait for the glue to dry. One could cover the entire bed with glue, but in the interest of Yankee frugality I just painted the center of the platform.

I’m using my preferred PLA for this print.

Wait five or ten minutes for the glue to dry and then hit print. Rep1 users will be familiar with the happy burble and kachunkachunks of a hobbyist bot. The Series 1 sounds completely different; it whirrs all sleek-like while it homes, like the opening few seconds of a Front 242 riff.

(Front 242 is Daft Punk for old people, kids.)

Ten minutes later we’ve got ourselves a Seej pennon.


Note that this flag prints in pieces– I’ve yet to find an FDM printer that will handle that 90° overhang.

After a couple of prints with a glue stick the print bed starts looking like eczema. The rash wipes off with a damp rag and then you’re back to a pristine surface.


Print #2
Let’s use the go-to challenge print, the Beast Token. It’s got lots of fine details and almost-impossible overhangs, so let’s see what the Series 1 can do with it, this time on painter’s tape at at .06mm layer height.

I’ll be honest though, putting painters’ tape on a printer this pretty feels like slapping a bumper sticker on a Bentley.

beast token typeA

Niiiiiiiice. The .06mm layer height brings out the details in this model. You can see a little bit of stringing here and there, but I suspect that’s a slicing issue. Not a bad job handling the forked tail, either.

These small prints worked out well so I ran the printer on a gargantuan 22-hour print job. I’ll have to keep my cards close to vest here with regard to content except to say that the print succeeded and I’m thrilled with the results. The final technical hurdle in Zheng3 Kickstarter #2 has been cleared by the Series 1.

Downsides to the Series 1

In all, the Series 1 is a great printer, so I’ve really had to scrutinize my arm fur to pick enough nits for this part of the post. Here they are.

No heated bed. Yet. I’ll lemonade this lemon; printing with ABS isn’t really my bag anymore. I’ve never cared for the odors and I’m not printing parts that require strength, so printing in PLA only is OK.

Mitigating factor: Type A Machines was kind enough to include a roll of ProtoPasta’s High-Carbon PLA in the box for those who’d like a little more oomph in their prints. I’ll evaluate this stuff in a later post.

Also: Cura For Series 1 doesn’t run on OSX 10.6.8 and likely never will due to Apple’s discontinuing support for the 10.6.8 SDK. Sooner or later I’ll move out of my mud-walled yurt and upgrade my main workstation to a modern OS, but for now I just need to slice on one of the 37 other computing devices at Zheng Labs. On the upside I’m getting some cardio by running up and down the stairs a few times a day.

Mitigating factor: Type A Machines’ support has been friendly, prompt, and well, supportive about my admittedly edge case OS conundrum.

In Conclusion:

I’ve thrown all kinds of prints at the Series 1, trying to get it to fail. So far, it’s been very reliable.

Everyday prints (Seej bloxen, catapults, and the like) come off the print bed every time, with no mid-print failures, filament jams, or PLA ramen clouds.

Finally! This morning I had a filament break below the drive gear where one can’t grab it with a pair if pliers. Normally I’d take apart the extruder, clear the jam, and then reassemble. That’s easily a 15 minute job on a Rep1 that throws everything out of calibration.

Series 1? Just feed more filament into the extruder. It’s back online in less than a minute.

Later today I’m going to throw an entire Faire Play armor set at the printer, all at once, just to see how the machine handles it.

As always, #staytuned, my friends. Exciting ride ahead.

Getting Lost in the Thicket

Bloxen, Bramble

You can download the .STL file for this model fo’ free, fo’ realz, from The Forge, along with many other Creative Commons-licensed designs. Just head to the Seej fortifications section and start clicking like a dolphin on meth. Knock your mean self out, hoss.

I’ve been doing a lot of simple models lately, like ye olde Semi-Formal Pocket Gear Train or the Bonsai Gibbon. These models are big on concept but easy on execution.

A few weeks ago I cranked out a floral Seej bloxen. Bumping out geometry to make vines is easy and fun, and got me started down another path I’ve been waiting to tread for quite some time.

I’d been feeling the need for an art challenge. How complicated of a model can I make with the tools I have available? Can I keep an excruciatingly complex mesh manifold and, importantly, printable on a Replicator1?

I feel like the tone of press coverage for 3D printing has recently shifted from “gee whiz” to “now what?” My Replicator1, as amazing a machine as it still objectively is by the standards of human technological progress, is beginning to feel dated.

The most complicated model I’ve released so far is the Barrow bloxen, but that thing’s a big honking mess of intersecting faces. It’ll print, but at the mathematical level it’s inelegant and causes me to feel an emotion somewhere between embarrassment and disdain.

I’ve been wanting to create a woodland player race for Seej, and a thicket seems like the kind of thing dryads might use to keep attackers out. So I’ll start fresh and create a tangle of vertices and faces, vine by vine, making sure the mesh remains manifold and printable as I go.

The first step is to start with a template bloxen and freehand draw a base for the model.

bloxen template

Then extrude the base, bevel the edges, and subdivide the mesh to get some sculptable vertices for the next step. Beveling the edges can introduce non-manifold geometry if one isn’t careful, so it’s important to visually inspect the tighter corners of the bevels to make sure edges aren’t accidentally intersecting before subdividing the mesh.

subdivide base

After a little bit of sculpting with Maya’s sculpt geometry tool to make the base a little bumpy, it’s a simple matter to punch out the bloxen’s mortises with a pair of cubes. If I’m careful with the placement of vines later on, this bloxen will stack handily with existing designs.

punch mortises

I’ve got digital skulls all over my hard drive: occupational hazard. Everything’s Better With Skulls, so I’ll add a little bit of art detail here. In hindsight I should have waited to add the rocks until later in the project because their extra geometry interfered with attaching some of the vines to the base.

rocks and skull

The process for adding vines is in theory simple, but in practice increasingly difficult as the thicket gets more dense:

  • draw a NURBS curve
  • extrude a polygon along its length with a twist and a taper
  • add some variation with the sculpt polygon tool
  • smooth the mesh
  • join the vine to the base, other vines, and neighboring geometry

I like to color different elements while I’m working so I can tell what I’ve worked on and what remains to be done. So I draw a gear-like profile for the first vine and extrude it a bit. Once the vine is smoothed those gear teeth will look like gnarly roots.

vine base extruded

I don’t need all the extra geometry created by the gear teeth so I merge some of the vertices to turn my profile poly into an octagon, and then extrude it along a twisty curve.

first vine

I want to rough out the major volumes before I get too tangled up in vines, so I add a squirrel. Everything’s Better With Squirrels.

I’m just going to take a moment to reflect on the fact that due to good planning I have a relatively simple way to add poseable squirrels to just about any model.

pose squirrel

Kestenbaum the squirrel needs a vine to grip, so back to the NURBS curves it is to create a suitably convoluted path.

path for vine

I’ll integrate Kestenbaum’s haunches with the skull’s parietal bones later, off-camera.

Every now and then a vine is going to branch off from the main trunk. The process is similar to extruding along a polygon along a path except I like to cut a hole in the main trunk first, round it off, and then extrude.

branch hole
branch extrude

After much lathering, rinsing, and repeating I’m convinced the workflow I’ve got is mostly sound and maintains a manifold mesh. The viny bloxen is beginning to take shape.

keeping track

I add vine after vine after vine over the next few days, and then get a little bored and decide to add something more interesting. A cylinder helps me block out where a bird’s nest is going to sit.

nest cylinder

And after a little subdividing and sculpting the nest is ready to go in. It needs a few little vines to keep it supported inside the bramble, and of course it wouldn’t be much of a 3d nest without some elongated spheres for eggs.

sculpted nest

Jumping ahead in time a bit, here’s a top-down view of the print before manual cleanup, showing the eggs in situ.


And then I’m back to meticulously adding vines a few at a time and running test prints to make sure the model’s as self-supporting as it can be. After a few weeks of working, an hour here, an hour there, I’m ready to begin adding thorns to the vines.

Moving all those thorns into place by hand (I think there are somewhere around 350 of them) would be way too time consuming, so I settle for a hybrid manual/scripting approach.

I manually go through the mesh and identify the polygon faces where I think a vine needs a thorn, and then write a short MEL script that constrains an instance of the thorn to those worldspace coordinates and then locks the thorn’s y-axis to the average of the faces’ surface normals. It sounds more complicated than it is.

add thorns

Sometimes the surface normal average doesn’t make perfect sense for the thorn’s orientation, so there’s a little bit of manual tweaking for a good 30% of the thorns.

I’m running test prints every few days throughout this process, just to make sure the model was mostly self-supporting. Chances are I missed one or two overhangs, but the density of the vines is such that stray filament strands actually add to the look for the final print.

The almost-final mesh is looking quite gnarly.


Because I am a homonin of questionable morels, I add a few mushrooms hidden inside the bramble so that others can experience the joy of finding them. These 3d fungi are far more detailed than they need to be at this resolution, but I’m planning to make a Dryad battle flag in the same style later so my small extra investment in time won’t be wasted.

xray shroom

The mesh has dozens of tiny holes created by Maya’s boolean operations, mostly at junctions between vines. I fix these when I find them but allow netfabb to do the cleanup on most of them.


I could keep adding detail to this model forever, but in practice the mesh is getting too unwieldy to work with. Sometimes it’s like working inside an actual thicket, with vines obscuring my view and 3d thorns scratching up against my camera lens.

Here’s a final print at 200% scale to bring out the details:

bramble 03

Whew. Glad this one’s finished. Time to move on.

A Little Relief



Last week I came downstairs to find the elder Zhengspawn had gotten into my box of acrylics and was busily painting one of the myriad bloxen that lurk in the crevices of Casa de Zheng. The original was printed in clear PLA on my Printrbot Simple; I think this is a nice improvement.


I thought it’d be fun to give her paint job a little relief and re-release it as a new bloxen.

The first step in the process is getting the real-world paint onto the 3d model. The easiest way I can think of to do this is to photograph the painted block and then texture map the model.

It occurs to me that I could also have used Autodesk’s 123dCatch to capture the surface of the bloxen, but Lao Zheng is old school, or what passes for old school in the 3d modeling world, and dislikes giving tessellation tasks over to the Cloud.

So photographs it is, just five of them since I’m not doing anything to the bottom of the model; one snapshot for each of the four sides, and one photograph for the top.

Next, I’ll take a basic bloxen and set up a UV map.

UV coordinates on a polygonal model are roughly analogous to latitude and longitude on a globe; they tell the paint where to go on the model’s surface. The first step in assigning UV’s is to unwrap the model’s surface and lay it out on a grid. There are automated processes for this in many applications, but with a model this simple it’s probably easiest and most intuitive to do it by hand.

block uv

And here’s the bloxen with a loose texture map on it. I’m not going to worry about the underside of the model for this project because ultimately it’s destined for 3d printing and the bottom needs to be smooth so it’ll stick to the print bed. Some of my textures are out of focus and distorted and I didn’t bother to texture the sides of the tenons, but I’m just using the painting as a rough guide anyway.

bloxen textured

You can download the UV’d model if you’d like to mess around with it yourself. Converting to STL wipes out UVs so the model’s in OBJ format. Enjoy.

The next step is to subdivide the mesh many, many times so that Maya’s paintbrush tools have some vertices to work with.


Most of the setup is done and now there’s a fun few minutes of using Maya’s Sculpt Geometry tool to bump out the vines. (Flowers will come later)

unforeseen problem After a bit of painting I find some WTFfery going on amidships, so this requires a step away from creativity and into the realm of Just Fixing Things. It looks like there is a line of extra small polygons in there, probably created by the subdividing script I’m using. They’ve gotta go, and sometimes the best way to fix things is to Just Delete Them.


The process destroys my nice quad-only mesh but I’ve been to enough rodeos to know that this probably isn’t going to sink the model later. Moving on, I make a bunch of little flowers, rotate them randomly, and stick them onto the surface of the bloxen.

add flowers

The flowers are very simple models so booleaning them to the bloxen is easy, except for the one flower that rounds a top corner. This one needs to be bent a little bit before it can be added.

deform flower

After adding the mortises on the bottom of the bloxen, merging all the stray vertices, and checking the model in netFabb to make sure it’s manifold it goes to print. No problems whatsoever, which is strangely disappointing since my 3dprinting failures Pinterest board hasn’t been updated in a while.

Ever since I replaced my delrin plungers with an extruder upgrade and switched to a BB ball-bearing based filament spool my MakerBot’s been rock solid.

This little project got me thinking in new directions, so #staytuned for an update sometime in the next few weeks.

Battle Flag, Charnel

Battle Flag, Charnel width=

“They made war on the Barrens, where wood is scarce and bones bloom eternal.”
–Qie Zi, The Art of Seej

New Seej Rule: A player fielding charnel battle flags may right one toppled flag for every three Barrow Bloxen in his fortification.

downloadI designed the charnel battle flag to really push the FDM printability envelope. One can print this banner with support, but one shouldn’t have to. It’s a one piece print, unlike previous Seej battle flags.

The vertebrae at the bottom of the flag can be a little tricky, so make sure your build platform is quite level.

This particular flag is printed with Filabot’s recycled ABS filament and then dipped in black tempera paint to bring out the details and give it a little grime.

Filabot Recycled ABS: Penny Catapult


The spastic mob of nerfherders, scallywags, and ne’er-do-wells that follows this blog knows that I’ve been printing almost exclusively with Filabot‘s recycled ABS lately. I’ve got a pound of this stuff to get through for review purposes, so I’m cranking out fortifications and war machines day and night. It’s like the fires of Isengard over here.

I’ve always felt that the starter catapult included with the Seej Starter Set was a little anemic. The base of the throwing arm can get caught on the playing surface, and it arcs too far forward to get a good ballistic trajectory for the penny payload. This engine’s been around a while, and it’s due for an upgrade.

There are two additions to this catapult: the footings and the atlas. The footings are self-explanatory: print four of them and snap them onto the side braces to get the end of the throwing arm off your gaming table.

The atlas stops the throwing arm a little sooner than the crossbeam normally would, which gives you more range and power than a stock penny catapult.

These upgrades are backwards-compatible with existing penny catapults, so if you’ve been playing Seej at your makerspace this will only enhance your game. Remember that you probably won’t get a lot of torque with a single rubber band, so use two or three.

Flagrant stagecraft alert: I’m using a twist tie to hold the lever arm in place for the photo.

You can grab the catapult here and print it yourself. Have fun, and wear eye protection!

Filabot Recycled ABS, second print

downloadI think I’ve got the Filabot Recycled ABS settings pretty well dialed in. I’m generally printing at 245° on kapton with a swipe of ABSynthe on at 110° HBP. This model is a Masonry bloxen, the primary defensive model used in a game of Seej.

Priming your HBP with ABSynthe is easy and really helps with print adhesion. First dampen a paper towel with a little acetone. Take a failed print, preferably something with some surface area, and firmly brush it a few times with the damp paper towel to get just a little plastic on there. Then wipe the towel across your kapton tape.

Note the color change from the first print a few days ago. As I’m working my way through this roll I’m finding that the Filabot Orange is clearly giving way to Filabot Natural. Right now we’re kind of looking at Filabot Creamsicle.

I’m not sure if this roll was a one-off sent to me by Filabot or if this is a consistent quality issue with the filament; I’ll get in touch with them and report back.

UPDATE: Filabot tells me that they sent a “purge extrude,” created in the process of transitioning from one color to another. Customers get filament of consistent color all the way through. Since the orange was pretty consistent while it lasted, I have no reason to doubt this claim.

Next up: catapults.

Seej bloxen, Ransom

I put this model on Thingiverse a couple of days ago but forgot to put it up on the blog. This is a hollow bloxen for Seej with an articulating door. Players place small wager items inside their own ransom bloxen. Winner takes all.


Some of the Ransom Bloxen’s design DNA comes from this dice plinth, in particular the flagstones on the base.


I’ve carved out geometry for an articulating door hinge, but the Replicator’s resolution is too low for it to print; we’re in the sub-millimeter range here. Note that the tiny (and skeuomorphic) rivets print just fine though.